Skip to main content

Recent Updates Fordham campuses remain physically closed per New York Pause, but all offices are staffed and operating remotely. Full Details

Kirsten Swinth

SwinthProfessor of History
Email: swinth@fordham.edu
Office: Dealy Hall 628
Phone: 718-817-3995

Research and teaching interests in U.S. women’s and gender history, post-World War II U.S. social, cultural, and economic history, visual culture,popular culture, and American Studies.

Education

PhD, American Studies, Yale University, May 1995

BA, cum laude, Individually Designed Major, "Modernism and Culture," Stanford University, 1986

Research Interests

My research interests center on the social and cultural history of the US since World War II, but I have also written on the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. My current focus is on gender and women’s history as it intersects with postwar US labor and economic history. I have a strong background in US visual and popular culture as well. My training is in American studies and I rely on an interdisciplinary approach in my work.

My current book in progress is The Rise of the Working Family: A Story of Peril, Promise, and Working Mothers at the Breaking Point, 1975-2020. In this first history of the contemporary American “working family,” I argue that a surge in mothers’ paid labor in the last half of the twentieth century provoked a deep cultural crisis. Although largely overlooked by historians, mothers’ growing participation in a postindustrial workforce ended the nearly two-hundred-year reign of a domesticideal of male breadwinner and female homemaker. I show how, in a major reordering of social relations, Americans forged a new normative family ideal in the 1980s that came to be called the “working family.” Women and men from various backgrounds turned to media, social science, and politics to mold this norm in divergent ways. I trace the ideal’s variants as well as discarded possibilities, and I analyze how working mothers crystallized the anxieties and desires unleashed by new realities. By foregrounding the working family, my work contributes fresh interpretations of gender and family history, U.S. conservatism, and post-Fordist capitalism.

Rise of the Working Family builds on my recent book, Feminism’s Forgotten Fight: The Unfinished Struggle for Work and Family (Harvard University Press, 2018). That book provides a fresh account of second-wave American feminBook cover for Dr. Swinth's book Feminism's Forgotten Flightism by uncovering a hidden history of activism. I reveal the rich 1960s and 1970s feminist activism on behalf of issues that we call today “work and family”--from childcare and family leave to involved fatherhood and shared housework. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight offers a lively revisionist history of the American women’s movement. It debunks the myth that feminists  threw women into the workplace, and then ignored them.

Feminists never simply wanted to insert women into the workplace as replicas of 1950’s men. Rather, liberal and radical activists, white women and women of color reconceptualized sex roles and the family order. They demanded that the government support caring for children by providing both allowances for mothers staying at home and universal childcare. Exposing the prevailing male- breadwinner/female-homemaker norm as discriminatory and out of step with most Americans’ lives, feminists put forward creative proposals to reshape workplaces and government policies, many of which, such as flex- and part-time work, now seem prescient. Historians have acknowledged many of these goals, but Feminism’s Forgotten Fight is the first study to examine feminist campaigns for them in depth and to connect them all within an overarching narrative.  With compelling stories of local and national activists, and of crucial judicial battles, this book restores the comprehensive vision feminists pursued. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight offers a timely intervention for the resurgent feminism of the Trump era.

My earlier scholarship examined gender, culture, and labor in the art world at the turn of the century. In Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern American Art, 1870-1930 (University of North Carolina Press, 2001), I traced the careers of two generations of American women artists who flooded the art world starting in the 1870s.  I showed the significance of culture to Progressive Era social reform with an edited document collection, How Did Settlement Workers at Greenwich House Promote the Arts as Integral to a Shared Social Life? for Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000 (Alexander Street Press, 2006).

My work has been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and on CNN.com, The Christian Science Monitor, the Huffington Post, and on public radio’s “To the Point.” I lecture regularly on women and work, the women’s movement, women in the art world, postwar America, and the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras. I have been featured on CSPAN’s Talking History. Fordham News interviewed Dr. Swinth about her new book, Feminism's Forgotten Fight. Read New Book by History Professor Recasts Second-Wave Feminism.

 

Courses Taught

Undergraduate

  • HIST 1000 Understanding Historical Change: Fighting for Equal Rights
  • HIST 3826 Modern U.S. Women’s History
  • HIST 3857 America Since 1945
  • HIST 4005 American Photography: History and Art 
  • HIST 4860 Seminar: 1970s: Revolutionary Decade
  • AMST 2000 Major Developments in American Culture

Graduate

  • HIST 5410 Race and Gender in Modern America
  • HIST 6721 Readings in U.S. Culture and Society Since 1877
  • HIST 6740 U.S. Culture and Society Post 1945
  • HIST 5731 History of Wealth and Poverty

Awards and Honors

I am a past the past winner of an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, a John Paul Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship in Art and the Humanities and a Fulbright Fellowship to Mozambique. I have received numerous other awards in my career, including the Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and a Truman Scholarship.

At Fordham, I served as Chair of the  Department of History, 2012-2016 and as director of the American Studies program, 2002-2007.

I earned a PhD in American Studies from Yale University in 1995 and a BA from Stanford University for an individually designed major, “Modernism and Culture,” in 1986.

Websites

Curriculum Vitae